Sunday, June 17, 2018
In 1999, genocidaire Vladimir Putin orders the Goreshist invasion and genocide of Chechnya in order to subjugate it and keep it a part of Kremlin's colony. On 5 February 2000, several Goreshist Russians entered Novy Aldy and perpetrated a massacre of 82 people, mostly Chechens, in the area. Nine years later, reporter Natalya Estemirova interviews the survivors who witnessed the war crime, thus documenting the events, including arson, rape and murder.
A brave and uncompromising documentary, "Novy Aldy - A Past that Cannot be Forgotten" is a sad, bitter and tragic chronicle of the Novy Aldy massacre during the Second Chechen War, offering a rare glimpse inside the lives of the survivors and witnesses of the said war crime, something that was a taboo topic and was forbidden to talk about in Goreshist Russia during that time. This documentary is a raw, yet gripping, emotional and electrifying affair: the witnesses talk how OMON soldiers shot civilians on the street, burned their homes, stole their money and raped, all of which is interwoven with clips of hand held camera that recorded the graphic images of the corpses, which is full of explicit content (one victim's brain is falling out from his skull, while the other's upper face was simply blown up). One Chechen woman gives one memorable quote during the film: "I think about those who did this... Were they not born as human beings? Don't they have brothers, sisters? Wives? Children? Don't they have the slightest bit of compassion? How do they live with it now? Don't they think about what they have done, not only with our lives, but with their own?" Another woman explains how she and many others were left traumatized after their family members and friends were murdered, summing it up with: "We don't live now anymore, we barely exist." More than anything else, this humanistic film is a testament and monument to life and work of reporter Natalya Estemirova, a wonderful and warm person and reporter, who was abducted and shot dead by the Goreshist shortly after this documentary was made.
A man-made attempt at reducing global warming went out of control to the opposite extreme, causing a global ice age that killed off the entire life on Earth. The remaining couple of thousands of people travel in a long train run by engineer Wilford. Curtis is one of the many of the lower class passengers who starts a revolt inspired by his leader Gilliam, in order to topple Wilford and avenge all the people who died from appalling conditions. Together with door cracker Namgoon and his daughter Yona, Curtis and his gang walk towards the locomotive. Finally there, Wilford explains to Curtis that Gilliam was working with Wilford all along in order to have an excuse to kill many from the lower class and reduce the overpopulation. Wilford also offers Curtis to be his heir. However, he refuses and the causes the train to crash. Yona and a kid exit the train and spot a polar bear outside in the snow.
This ultra-pessimistic dystopian film offers a dark perspective on the limitations and determinism of physical-biological aspects that define human life, advancing into a Greek tragedy in which there is no solution or escape from this state, yet its spasmodic story and nihilistic elements are so crippling that they in the end become the movie's own flaw, whereas director Joon-ho Bong definitely lost some of his amazing, creative style from his early films that announced him as the new hope of South Korean cinema. "Snowpiercer" is basically an allegory on human history which, just like the train, just goes on in endless circles, unravelling about the never-ending class struggle in which the lower class is rebelling against the upper class, yet just like other frauds in history (the October Revolution, the Iranian Islamist Revolution...), it just ends with the revolutionaries becoming the new oppressor, the new upper class, contemplating about the need for humans to abandon these endless violences and bloody battles in order to finally grow up and resolve the issue with dialogue. The concept here is problematic in several aspects, though: for instance, why a train? If these are the only survivors of humanity, why not place them in a stationed place, such as a dome? Travelling across the world in a mobile train is dangerous, especially since nobody is fixing or mending the railroad. Why risk that even one wagon gets separated? Why can't the train simply stop when its not going anywhere, anyway? Other inconsistencies and illogical plot points bother as well: for instance, what does Curtis aim to accomplish, anyway? The story was simply not that well thought out to the end. It is an ambitious, yet bizarre and twisted film at the same time that is not for everyone's taste.
Friday, June 15, 2018
Bill Marks is a U.S. Air Marshal and ex-alcoholic who works non-stop to forget the death of his daughter. One night, while on board of a plane that is flying over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to London, he suddenly gets threatening text messages on his secure phone: the unknown messenger is threatening to kill one person every 20 minutes unless 150 million $ are transferred to a certain bank account. When one of the pilots gets poisoned and dies, Bill tries to use the help of a passenger, Jen; a muslim doctor; an NYPD officer, Austin and flight attendant Nancy to find out whom among the passengers is the criminal. Worse still, the FBI suspects Bill is the hijacker himself, since the bank account is on his name. Finally, the real perpetrator is revealed to be Bowen, whose father died during 9/11 so he wants to cause a bomb explosion on the plane to raise the awareness of the public. Luckily, Bill stops him and the plane lands safely in Reykjavik.
A surprisingly well done film, this is one of those 'minimalist thrillers' that intend to play out the entire story set out only on limited location, in this case a plane flying over the Atlantic Ocean, and manages to make it suspenseful and engage the viewers until the end. The director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the repertoire of Hitchcock's similar thrillers "Lifeboat", "The Lady Vanishes" and "The Rear Window" to craft "Non-Stop", resulting in an intriguing 'kammerspiel' that slowly builds its suspense, luckily without cheap tricks or sudden jump scares. One of the most effective sequences is, remarkably, one of the most quites ones at the same time: it is the almost 5-minute long sequence without any dialogues, in which Bill is walking across the plane and reading the disturbing text messages from an unknown villain that appear on the screen of the film, and which threaten to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless 150 million $ are transferred to an unknown account. Other details are good, as well (a flight attendant looking at every passenger on the screen, circling out several of them who are texting on their mobile phones while Bill is simultaneously exchanging text messages with the villain, in order to try to narrow their search for the bad guy to several suspects), whereas the story flows smoothly, though some of the supporting characters are underused (Juliane Moore's character, for instance). This is an interesting 'whodunnit' mystery, almost set up as one of Agatha Christie's stories on a plane, especially since many characters are presented among the passengers, yet the villain is revealed only at the sole end. Unfortunately, the finale of "Non-Stop" is terrible, since the villain's motivations and actions make no common sense, since a bad idea cannot be compensated by good acting, no matter how good the actors are, and thus such insane ending reduces the high impression of the film and takes its toll.
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Kevin (11) is a kid fascinated with history, but is neglected by his parents who are only interested in kitchen machines. One night, Kevin is shocked when six dwarfs enter his bedroom and bring him on to a journey across time: their leader, Randall, has a time map that shows small portals which lead to different eras in history. Randall and the dwarfs intend to travel through time and rob historic figures. On their journey, they encounter Napoleon, Robin Hood, Agamemnon and then head of to the era of legends, but get trapped by Evil who wants to use the map to re-write the entire world according to his own wishes. However, the Supreme Being shows up, stops Evil and obtains the map back. Kevin is brought back to his apartment, but his parents touch a piece of Evil's remains, and thus disintegrate.
Terry Gilliam's 3rd feature length film, which he co-wrote with his ex-Monty Python colleague Michael Palin, is a bizarre grotesque which, just like every subsequent film the director would make, was met with split reactions: some consider it a cult film and Gilliam's most accessible, fun flick, while others dismiss it as patchwork that slowly gets lost in the sea of autistic nonsense. Gilliam's hyper-surreal style and "distorted" set-designs truly are not for everyone, yet thanks to so many irresistible jokes, "Time Bandits" still lean towards the former impression. Since it traverses from one time period to another, the storyline is very episodic and thus each segment is "on its own": some episodes are pointless (the ogre; the giant wearing a ship as a hat) yet some rise to the occasion and deliver a few delicious gags, among them certainly the excellent John Cleese who delivered another comic creation in his career in the role of a perfectly clean and neatly dressed up Robin Hood, who really stands out as a sore thumb among all his dirty, poverty stricken followers, especially in the scene where he has an exchange with one of the dwarfs ("How long have you been a robber?" - "4'1").
Another great creation is that of David Warner who plays the Evil, the villain who wants to get the map and who has a few hilarious outbursts of rebellion against the Supreme Being who designed the flawed world—Evil's cynical monologue in front of his henchmen is gold ("Slugs! He created slugs! They can't hear. They can't speak. They can't operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?... If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils! I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!"). Some of the jokes appear so swiftly, in a visual way, that it is a delight—the dwarfs trying to steal a ring from a sleeping Napoleon, only to find out why he always kept his hand in his shirt (he had a prosthetic hand) or when one of the waiters on a ship moves away to reveal a sign on the wall that says "Titanic". These innocent jokes work far better than the black humor Gilliam is known for. Still, "Time Bandits" cannot shake away two impressions: the similar time-travel comedy "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" seems much fresher, whereas all the supporting characters are far more interesting than the main ones, since all six dwarfs act almost as extras throughout the entire film.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Jean Diaz is a divorced single parent of David and an animator who hasn't made a single film for a decade, though he is working on a script for an apocalyptic film about violence, "Blood". Death, who can watch people and influence events in a control room full of screens, causes Jean to have a car crash. Death then takes the dead Jean and blackmails him to animate the film "Blood" or else David will not recover from the crash. David is certain that Jean is held captive in a dungeon, but his mother, Catherine, doesn't believe him. Shocked that Death intends to use the ending of "Blood", namely a global flood of blood, to kill all of humanity, Jean rebels, cuts its hand off and escapes through a passage. He then reunites with David on a beach.
Fantasy "The Passage" is one of the more bizarre movies from the 80s, even for a French art-film. The deeply allegorical story about the personification of Death that can influence events and separate a father from his child talks about some universal themes of loss, tragedy, bitterness and fatalism that constantly disrupt the lives of everyone, yet it does so in a very didactic, pretentious or heavy handed way of preaching, instead of naturally knitting it into the story and its events. Some of the subplots lead nowhere, such as the character of Catherine who does not play any role in the resolution. Other elements, while strong and creepy, were not exploited to their fullest: for instance, Death is seen sitting in a control room of sorts, in front of five screens, and typing in events on the computer keyboard which then really happen in real life, such as Jean's "mysterious" car crash or his surgery going wrong, as some sort of a modern Moirai that manipulates destiny, yet such an expressionistic image (and concept) were elaborated in a far superior way in the form of character Christof in "The Truman Show". The ending also seems rather abrupt, whereas the story drags here and there. Still, some of the images have some almost surreal-expressionistic level to them, which makes the movie stand out as a cult peculiarity of the subconscious, from clips of Jean's fictional animated film (a man in a wheelchair watching "King Kong" on TV goes to open the door, only be killed by unseen criminals) to Jean battling Death to escape from the control room.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
San Francisco. Ex-detective Harry Kilmer gets a phone call from an old friend, Tanner, who asks for his help. In Tokyo, Tanner claims he was coerced by Yakuza boss Tono into doing an arms smuggling business, but that he lost the weapons and now Tono kidnapped Tanner's daughter and threatens to kill her unless he gets the weapons back. Flying to Tokyo, Harry visits his unrequited love again, Eiko, a woman he saved during the US occupation of Japan, but she never wanted to marry him. Harry visits Eiko's brother, Ken, and persuades him to attack a house and save Tanner's daughter. However, it turns out Tanner never lost the weapons: he sold it and kept the money, anyway, since he was in financial trouble. When Tanner and Tono team up to kill Harry, their men accidentally kill Eiko's daughter, Hanako. In retaliation, Harry and Ken kill both Tanner and Tono. Afterward, Harry finds out Ken is actually Eiko's husband.
For a long time, American films were fascinated with American-Japanese culture clash, leading to several films about these encounters, including "Black Rain", "Sayonara" and "Lost in Translation". Another contribution was director Sydney Pollack's 8th film, "The Yakuza", a crime film that is watchable, yet rarely more than that. While the script is all right, it never rises to the occasion, settling only for a standard, routine and sometimes even bland achievement without much inspiration. When the only moments that 'stir up' the viewers are sudden outbursts of violence (in one sequence, Ken uses a sword to cut off the hand of a gangster who wanted to shoot at Harry; the codex of cutting your own finger as an apology to someone...), then that is a bad sign. Robert Mitchum is again in good shape and has some charisma, yet he has little to work with since his character Harry is underused, save for the tragic love story he found himself in. He is also effective in probably the film's best sequence, the long tracking shot of Harry entering Tanner's office in order to shoot him. A few more of highlights of such calibre would have been welcome, since it is hard to shake away the feeling that "The Yakuza" is one of Pollack's lesser achievements. If anything, Harry's friend Dusty at least said one memorable quote in the spa: "When an American cracks up, he opens up the window and shoots up a bunch of strangers. When a Japanese cracks up, he closes the window and kills himself. Everything is in reverse."
Thursday, May 31, 2018
New York. Despite all their differences, Iron-Man / Tony Stark, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision, Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Winter Soldier, augmented by the "space calvary" in the form of Peter Quill and his Guardians of the Galaxy—Drax, Gamora, Groot, Rocket and Mantis—join forces to stop the autocratic Thanos, who wants to collect all eight Infinity Stones, which would make him the most powerful being in the Galaxy and make his vision come true, namely to save the Galaxy from decay of overpopulation by killing half of every living intelligent life across all the planets. Despite their enormous efforts, Thanos gets the final Mind Stone and activates the disintegration of half of all life across the Universe, causing many of the Avengers to simply disappear.
Despite many believing that the story could not grow anymore in scale, the 19th film in Marvel's Cinematic Universe film series, which started a decade ago, "Avengers: Infinity War" decided to set the bar even a notch higher, handing over a movie diptych whose ambition attempts to make it the "Ben-Hur" among the superhero movies. While its epic scale certainly is colossal, its character interactions, ingenuity and versatility of events are still as thin and simplistic as all the previous comic-book films, making it seem like an overblown bubble at times. One of the major problems the screenwriters had to face was how to construct a story that would encompass 18 heroes (!) in one, since each one of them had to say at least a couple of lines, threatening of rendering the entire story overstuffed with babble or excess, as it was the case with "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", yet screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely managed to assemble a surprisingly well crafted script that always keeps its balance, adjoining just enough lines to everyone—except for the underused Black Widow, Captain America, Falcon and Winter Soldier, who just did not get anything more than a few minutes of screen time.
Luckily, the Guardians of the Galaxy did not disappoint since all their scenes are the most fun in the entire film: the dramatic talk between Gamora and Quill is deliciously interrupted when they hear Drax eating nuts and realize he was listening to them the entire time, whereas Quill's argument with the Avengers is refreshing ("Flash Gordon? That's a compliment. Don't forget, I'm half human. So that 50% of me that's stupid that's 100% you!"). The second most lively character is once again Tony Stark / Iron-Man (very good Robert Downey, Jr.), who also manages to eclipse many other stiff-grey characters and rise through the ranks thanks to his wit: near the opening, when the two aliens show up in New York in order to get the Stone, he just says to them: "We're sorry, the Earth is closed for today!". Certainly, the visual effects team tries to make the action sequences equally as engaging, but they fail since this kind of wit is far more direct, whereas the constant CGI overkill makes some battles look like a video game. Even the villain, Thanos, is not presented as a 'run-of-the-mill' bad guy who just wants to conquer the Universe just for the sake of his egoism, but a more complex personality who has a weird philosophy that there needs to be a balance in the Universe, and that half of all life across the planets has to be killed to stop the decay of overpopulation. However, this is still illogical: if Thanos now has the magical Infinity Stones, including the Reality and Time Stone, and can do anything, why not simply change, expand and re-write the entire Universe so that this overpopulation is not a problem anymore? Why killing the sick if one has the power to cure them? These and other omissions somewhat clash with the more mature, dark content of the story—some of which is almost dancing on R rated territory—yet the film still marks a welcomed trend: finally, a big budget Hollywood film with a decent story and style.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
One Saturday evening, Dante Lazarescu (62) calls the ambulance because he is suffering both from a headache and stomach pain. While he waits for the ambulance, he calls his neighbors to ask if they have any painkillers. The ambulance finally arrives and the nurse, Mioara, directs Lazarescu to a nearby hospital, yet it is too crowded there due to a recent bus crash, so he is sent to another hospital. In the other hospital, the doctor suspects Lazaerscu has stomach cancer, but he sends him to a third hospital for a CT scan. After the scan, Lazarescu and Mioara have to go to a fourth hospital for a surgery of a hematoma, even though he has dysarthria and thus cannot clearly speak anymore.
One of the most significant movies from the Romanian New Wave, this dark and depressive drama explores the uncomfortable situation of helplessness and frustration of people who have to rely on the sad state of the public health care system in Eastern Europe where there are not enough doctors, nor funds, while the patients are treated as things, not as humans. Similarly like "Umberto D.", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" also shows old age as an ever sinking state with no way of saving, yet the director Cristi Puiu did not conjure up that much ingenuity or sense for a richer spectrum of a viewing experience than just the one presented at face value: the film is too simplistic and banal in its structure, with no clear strategy of where it is going, exacerbated further by a sudden open ending that leaves nothing resolved. At 153 minutes, it is also unnecessary overstretched: the first 50 minutes could have been easily cut altogether, since they waste too much time on pointless scenes of the two neighbors waiting at Lazarescu's home, waiting for the ambulance to show up, when in fact the entire story could have started right when the ambulance arrives. When 10 sentences are used in something that could have been said in only one, then that is problematic. A few cynical lines aside ("You called an ambulance on Saturday. Don't expect them to come here soon!"), Puiu maintains a rather serious tone, yet lacks highlights. The title protagonist traverses four hospitals, yet only the third one offered some truly interesting moments in the sequence where a doctor is inspecting Lazarescu and asks him to name the objects he is holding: when he points at the watch, Lazarescu says "time", and when he points at a pen, he says "writer". As an indictment of the entire distorted system, where the doctors are either impolite or uninterested for their patients, the movie works, yet it can only go so far before it exhausts the viewers concentration due to its 'one-note concept', because it also plays out as a more boring, literal version of "Dr. House", just without its spark and energy.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
San Francisco. Johnny is a successful banker who is engaged to Lisa. However, Lisa is bored with him and has an affair with Johnny's best friend, Mark. Her mother advises her to stay with the financially stable Johnny, but Lisa is not interested. During a party, a suspicious Johnny finally finds out Lisa is cheating on him with Mark. Johnny goes crazy, takes a gun and shoots himself.
Some films disappear during their premiere, but later resurface and establish a puzzling cult reputation that transcends their limited background. Tommy Wiseau's feature length debut film, "The Room", should be included among them, since its reputation actually exploded a decade after its premiere and advanced into an Internet meme. While some critics resorted to superlatives to describe its alleged errors and disastrous mistakes, many of those comments were in fact exaggerated: nothing in "The Room" is particularly bad, but, sadly, nothing is particularly good, either. Its biggest sin is that is simply a bland, boring soap opera, a typical "girlfriend cheats on boyfriend" run-of-the-mill fodder, and nothing else, where nothing much happens and all the dialogues are so ordinary and melodramatic, without any ingenuity or creativity. It is basically an average flick, nothing different than TV-dramas from the 80s. However, the movie is still a 'guilty pleasure': it has some aura of bizarreness that makes all these predictable ingredients at least fun to watch. Much of this stems from some surreal, unusual and downright demented scenes and character's action that don't make much sense.
Director and writer Wiseau is fascinating persona: nobody knows when he was born, or where, but he somehow came to the US, gained a fortune, and made this film about the characters he doesn't understand. It's almost as if Wiseau is a man from the year 3000 who travelled back in time to the 21st century: he cannot understand these people, his actions are of an complete outsider, so he just tries to pretend to direct them into a drama because all the other movies from that time had these features. And yet, he has such sheer enthusiasm that one simply cannot get angry at him. One instance of his inconsistencies is the sequence on the rooftop where Mark tells a sad story about a girl who slept with a dozen men, so one of the guys got jealous and beat her up so much that she landed in a hospital. Johnny's reaction? He just laughs and then continues with some irrelevant anecdote. The best moments are precisely those where the humor was intentional: when Michelle enters and spots a guy in the room, she tells him "XYZ" ("eXamine-Your-Zipper") or the scene where Michelle is "slapping" Lisa with a pillow in a loving way. It is difficult to pinpoint Wiseau. Just imagine Godard, W. Anderson, J. Coen and Q. Tarantino, just even more autistic. And then imagine them without their creative-expressionistic style. And then imagine them directing just an ordinary soap opera story, but with themselves in the leading role. This comes close to "The Room": if it is a cult film, then at least it shouldn't have been so placid.
Sunday, May 13, 2018
London. Hitman Jack Carter gets the permission of his boss, gangster Gerald, to travel to his hometown Newcastle for his brother's funeral, Frank. However, Carter decides to investigate since he suspects foul play: Frank namely died in a car accident due to drunk driving. Settling in a motel, Carter captures a man who was spying on him and forces him to give him a name of the assassin, but the trail leads nowhere. Frank's mistress Margaret also supposedly knows nothing. After landing in bed with a woman, Glenda, Carter accidentally spots a porn movie featuring Frank's teenage daughter, Doreen, who is forced to have sex with Albert and Margaret. Leading upon this trail, Carter kills Albert and finds out Eric was the one who killed Frank, since he wanted to persuade Frank to clash with gangster Kinnear. Carter catches and kills Eric near a coal mine, but is himself assassinated by Gerald's hitman, since Carter had an affair with Gerald's girlfriend, Anna.
Similarly like Melville's "The Samurai", Mike Hodges' "Get Carter" is also a raw, "clinical", cold, bitter, brutal and unglamorous minimalistic gangster film that has no association or sympathy with its main "hero", a hitman, here played brilliantly by veteran actor Michael Caine. The whole movie is all style over substance—its revenge story is rather standard; its dialogues are scarce are banal; its scale is confined to only one town—and its episodic structure is unusual—for instance, Carter aimlessly searches for the killer of his brother and discovers nothing all until 70 minutes (!) into the film—yet it has some rough energy that engages the viewers throughout. Kudos goes to Hodges who used the telephoto lens in an intreresting way in order to create a few remarkable, aesthetic shots and conjure up a feeling as if he is filming Carter secretly from a distance, but also to create a confusing, distorted effect of the hitman feeling 'out-of-place' in his own old hometown. The whole film seems modern even today, from its quick, naturalistic death sequences (Carter, for instance, just stabs a man, or throws him from a building, never lingering on violence longer than he has to) up to its several erotic moments (the highlight is probably Carter having "phone sex" with his mistress, Anna, to whom he says to take her bra off and touch her breasts), which caused quite a shock to some conservative movie-goers during that time. With the passage of time, Hodges proved right, since "Carter" achieved that status of both as a cult film and a classic, giving a synthesis of European art-films and American gangster films, whereas the plot twist at the end comes as a real surprise.